Friday 19 August 2022

The Next 365 Days (Movie Review)

All good things come in threes. Or in the case of the 365 Days trilogy on Netflix, they at least come to an end. That is indeed the promise of The Next 365 Days, the third and hopefully final film in the series of erotic thrillers. Whether or not you've been eagerly anticipating this conclusion, you've got to admire the filmmakers for sticking with the same tired formula over the course of three movies. But does the new film manage to salvage what is left of its worn-out premise, or does it further succumb to the laws of diminishing returns?

Much like the previous films in the series, The Next 365 Days centers on the evolving relationship between our two leads, Massimo and Laura. For those keeping track, the latter had been shot at the end of the last film and the new film's opening moments lean heavily into that cliffhanger ending, with Massimo shown mourning the loss of someone at their graveside. The scene is juxtaposed against another showing a meeting between the two rival crime families established in the prior films, as Massimo promises bloody retribution should his rivals continue their push to encroach into his family's territory.

Laura only manages to stay dead for all of five minutes though, before it is revealed that she is once again miraculously alive and well on her way to full recovery from her bullet wound. But the events of the last film had taken an emotional toll, and it is immediately clear that she is still harboring feelings for Nacho, aka Massimo 2.0, despite his allegiance to the rival crime family. So as you can imagine, this puts an even greater strain on her relationship with Massimo, thus setting the stage for the film's central conflict.

All of that is of course just set dressing, because the filmmakers clearly know what their target audience wants. So you can expect even more steamy sex scenes with very little bearing on the film's overall plot, all of which are set to generic pop music from artists no one has heard of. This is all familiar territory at this point, as we've pretty much all come to know what to expect with these lowbrow erotic movies. So anyone going into The Next 365 Days expecting anything other than what is given only has themself to blame.

That said, the fact that something has already established itself as being mediocre by design doesn't then excuse its further descent into mediocrity. And The Next 365 Days certainly feels like a new all-time low for the series with its poor dialogue, acting, story, and lack of direction. Its biggest crime in my opinion, however, is an overriding feeling of saminess. You can only watch so many sweeping slow-mo shots of lavish interiors and beautiful locales before the whole thing starts to blur together. At least the last film tried to shake things up with the introduction of a love triangle and some truly meme-worthy dialogue.

But this one can't help but feel lazy or like a downgrade by comparison, like the writers have simply run out of ideas and the cast and crew are merely going through the motions of churning out another film through mere obligation. The film meanders for most of its runtime, clumsily stumbling from one sex scene to another along the way. I realize that some of that might come directly from the source material itself but also believe it is the filmmaker's job to have a tighter script. And just like the larger film trilogy, this one stretches what little actual story it has to tell too thin and suffers as a result. 

I could think of a few choice words to try to convey just how bad The Next 365 Days is, but trust me when I say none of them will do the film justice. Its failure to respect the viewer's time makes it extremely difficult to recommend to anyone, except those that are already committed to finding out how the story ends. Even then, you'd be better served by waiting to read a plot summary on Wikipedia instead because there is very little satisfaction to be had here. The one silver lining I guess is the fact that they've finally run out of source material to adapt, this being based on the last one in the book trilogy. So hopefully this is the last we are going to see of Massimo and Laura and their questionable love for one another.

Friday 12 August 2022

Day Shift (Movie Review)

The streaming wars appear to be waging on as another big-budget film makes its exclusive debut online. Having only just been blessed with the brilliant Prey on Hulu last week, we now turn to Netflix for Day Shift, an action comedy anchored by Jamie Foxx. His latest film carries a hefty $100 million production budget, a sum that is incidentally half that of last month's The Gray Man. And while many might rightfully question the continued viability of these films, the more important question is whether or not this particular one manages to put that budget to good use.

The film stars Jamie Foxx as Bud, a man who struggles to balance his time between his job as a vampire hunter and being there for his daughter. But when he is given only seven days by his ex-wife to raise the money he needs to pay her tuition, he is forced to turn to the Vampire Hunters Union for assistance. And there he gets saddled with a rookie named Seth (Dave Franco), who is to ensure that he works within the boundaries of the Union's rules, even as he is relegated to the less lucrative day shift.

On the surface, Day Shift is a buddy cop comedy with supernatural horror elements. So instead of drug dealers and street-level thugs, our duo must deal with the vampires that call the San Fernando Valley area home. And while that might sound like an interesting enough concept to carry an action film, it is actually the inherent charm of its two leads that serves as its crutch. 

Jamie Foxx is no stranger to starring in these high-profile Netflix films, having previously worked with the streamer on Project Power. But unlike that film centered on drugs that gave its users superpowers, no explanation is ever truly given for his ability to go toe-to-toe with multiple vampires in this one, other than a throwaway line about him once serving in the military. So needless to say, some suspension of disbelief would be required for you to truly get on board with the movie.

Thankfully, the film never takes itself too seriously, which is reflected in both the plot and its overall tone. Dave Franco provides most of the comic relief, even though he doesn't make an appearance until about 30 minutes into the film. Snoop Dogg also channels his inner OG as the film's resident badass, a seemingly infallible vampire hunter that seems capable of doing no wrong. 

Your enjoyment of these particular elements could very well hinge on your tolerance for its kind of humor, which is often of the gross-out variety. The film also wears its R rating like a badge of honor, so expect plenty of decapitations and copious amounts of blood. This is of course lightened by its comedic nature, and while not every one of its jokes land, the ones that don't are made up for by some genuinely thrilling action sequences.

Day Shift provides more than enough dumb fun for anyone craving a late summer action comedy with plenty of blood and guts. Just don't go into it expecting anything more than what was promised by its trailer. For better or worse, this is yet another overpriced Netflix film that skates by on the strength of its high-profile leads, and watching both Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco riff off of one another remains this one's biggest highlight.

Sunday 7 August 2022

Prey (Movie Review)

Following an amazing feature film directorial debut with 10 Cloverfield Lane, Dan Trachtenberg returns to direct Prey. His latest film is set in the Predator universe, taking place nearly 300 years before the original film. And while that movie remains one of the most iconic sci-fi releases from the 1980s, its various sequels have struggled to match its thrills and overall inventiveness. So my hope going into this prequel was that we would finally get an entry that was worthy of the Predator name.

The film follows the exploits of a young Native American woman named Naru, as she prepares to undergo a rite of passage that involves hunting one of the indigenous predators in the forest near her home. But she feels both overshadowed and undermined by the men in her tribe, who believe she has no place on the hunting grounds. Determined to prove her worth as a skilled hunter, she sets off with her dog to investigate some strange tracks she had spotted during their last hunt. But little does she know that the predator she is tracking is of an alien origin.

To say that Prey is a marked improvement over all the other Predator movies that came before it is an understatement. From its opening frames, you can pretty much tell that this one is a class above the others. The film is at once beautiful to look at, with sweeping shots of the vast forest landscape that serves as its setting. And that setting is used to great effect throughout the film, to create a heightened sense of dread as the cloaked predator moves around unseen.

These are old tricks from the previous films and the wider sci-fi horror genre, to be sure, but never have they looked this good, or worked this well. And the same thing can be said about the special effects, which strike a nice balance between looking retro and modern. I particularly enjoy films where most of the effects are achieved through practical means, and it was nice to see the same reflected here.

The film is not just about the predator of course, which brings us to Amber Midthunder as our lead, Naru. I am not familiar with much of her prior work, so it was indeed a pleasant surprise to see her anchor the film with a strong, heartfelt performance. Dog lovers are bound to be instantly endeared to her through the depictions of her interactions with her canine partner. I had my reservations about the character when I first saw the trailers but I'm pleased to say she had won me over by the end of the film.

Speaking of reservations, it is worth noting that the film is a bit on the graphic side, with some cool-looking gore effects. Fans of the franchise shouldn't be surprised to hear this of course, but casual viewers or the more squeamish among us might find some of it a bit excessive. It also takes a while for things to really kick into gear, as the filmmakers take the requisite time needed to set the stage. But once they do, you'll be cheering along in what is one of the most satisfying showdowns I have seen all year.

Prey infuses the Predator franchise with some much-needed class. But even more than that, it is a great standalone movie in its own right, making effective use of its limited scope and bag of old tricks. It is anybody's guess why, despite being solidly crafted, it has wound up on a streaming service instead of playing in theaters like it deserves. But here's hoping that it signals a fresh, new direction for subsequent films in the franchise to emulate or follow.

Saturday 6 August 2022

Bullet Train (Movie Review)

As the summer movie season begins to wind down, one could be forgiven for thinking we've run out of worthwhile movies to go out and see on the big screen. But as astute moviegoers no doubt know, the back half of the season typically serves as fertile ground for smaller-scale genre films to shine, away from the shadow of the larger tentpoles. And Bullet Train definitely fits that category, the new action comedy by Deadpool 2 director, David Leitch. The question, however, is whether or not this particular train is worth catching in the first place.

The film stars Brad Pitt as Ladybug, an aging assassin whose latest job aboard the titular bullet train quickly goes awry. What was supposed to be a simple snatch and grab of a high-value briefcase descends further and further into chaos when it turns out that several other assassins, with varying ties to one another, were also there on conflicting assignments. Now he must not only struggle to piece together why they were all gathered there but also fight or outsmart the others long enough to make it off the train alive.

It doesn't take very long into Bullet Train to realize what type of movie it is, a stylish action comedy that seems derivative of other works. This is mainly because the film is not afraid to wear its influences on its sleeves, borrowing from the likes of Guy Ritchie and Edgar Wright with a visual style and nonlinear storytelling structure that immediately calls to mind movies like Snatch and Baby Driver. But what helps to set this one apart is its director's own background as a stunt coordinator.

Having worked on films like Atomic Blonde and John Wick, David Leitch continues to show his flair for stylized action and tightly-choreographed fight scenes. Most of it is thankfully easy to follow despite the high-octane nature of the narrative itself, which is a relief in a genre that is becoming increasingly reliant on fast cuts and shaky cameras. His latest film also makes the most of the confines of its single location setting, much like the similarly-set Snowpiercer, even though this one relies a bit more heavily on flashbacks to fill in the details of its back story. 

None of that would mean anything of course if the film didn't also give us characters worth caring about. And on that front the movie shines with one of the most stacked casts I have seen all year. Brad Pitt once again takes the place of the charismatic lead, but it is actually the duo of Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson that proved to be most endearing. They play a pair of ruthless fruit named assassins who provide most of the movie's gags and heart. There were also a number of surprise cameos sprinkled throughout the film, none of which I am going to spoil here. But it was nice seeing so many recognizable faces, even if quite a few of them felt criminally underutilized.

It is also worth noting that the film did take a considerable while before all the pieces of its overarching narrative fall into place. So less patient viewers might find all the earlier narrative hopping and character shifts a bit hard to follow. But at just over 2 hours in length, the whole thing never started to run out of steam or wear thin.

Bullet Train is another B-tier action flick that is sure to satisfy genre fans with its endless thrills and many twists and turns. The narrative does threaten to go off the rails atimes, as its overlapping subplots and implausible scenarios veer ever so close to teetering off the track. But everything is kept humming along thanks to a stellar ensemble and often clever script, as it builds to an explosive climax that is just as big as it is audacious.